A group of lawmakers from both sides of the political aisle agree Arkansas needs to invest more in its youngest residents. They've formed a caucus focused on creating evidence-based policies for the 2021 General Assembly.
Executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families Rich Huddleston said experiencing frequent stress in the first five years of life can profoundly rewire a child's brain - which can cause lifelong physical, behavioral and mental-health problems. He said the state lacks a solid infrastructure to help its most vulnerable population.
"And I think it's also clear that states can really put in place good public policies to help our youngest children thrive and succeed," Huddleston said.
Chaired by Republican Sen. Trent Garner of El Dorado and Democratic Rep. Denise Garner of Fayetteville, the Early Childhood Well-Being Caucus will hear presentations from early-childhood experts every other month.
Huddleston said busy lawmakers might not be up to speed on the latest brain-development science. He said the caucus provides an opportunity for lawmakers to learn more about the developing brain during those critical early years so they can make informed policy decisions.
"The caucus really does present a unique opportunity for legislators to really hear, over the course of the next year, what this research says in terms of what our youngest kids need," he said.
He added of the state's 190,000 children younger than age 5, more than 1 in 4 live in poverty. And among children of color, the number is 1 in 3.